After quick shoulder checks for Galloping Goose cyclists at his back, Ian Cooper nimbly moves from spot to spot, occasionally reaching his black Sony camera past shin-high green blades of felled cattails or long grass to snap close-ups of green bees, spiders or butterflies.
The longtime trail user found himself taking more bike rides alongside the colourful wildflowers and the natural space of the Galloping Goose route early in the pandemic. It was during those trips he started snapping pictures of bees, wasps and other critters that had never before caught his attention.
But while returning to a spot where he’d visited just days earlier, he found the plants that were housing the different species had been chopped down.
“It was just kind of a shock and I thought, ‘Why are they doing this?’” Cooper said.
In the years since, he’s been documenting videos of small invertebrates climbing through the plants or pollinators buzzing in and out of colourful flowers. Those clips posted to social media also show the before and after shots of the trail’s natural margins being mowed down.
The juxtaposition of various campaigns encouraging people to plant wildflowers or other pollinator-supporting species as he constantly comes across razed areas along the public trail is a cause of confusion for Cooper.
His trail-side stops led to him finding an endangered Hairstreak butterfly caterpillar that was collected and later released with the help of a local naturalist group. That and his recent videos of bees flying in and out of flowers are examples of the important biodiversity being supported by the plants directly beside the trail.
“Seeing that one bumblebee going into a flower whereas right beside it, here are all these California poppies mowed down and I’m thinking what is the logic here,” Cooper said.
“This is life support, these flowering plants are life support for pollinators.”
The Capital Regional District’s Regional Trails Management Plan states “where possible and appropriate, natural buffer vegetation should be maintained or enhanced” and adds that “environmental implications will be considered in decision-making.”
CRD spokesperson Andy Orr told Black Press Media the district is sure those principles are being followed when decisions on mowing certain stretches are made. He said vegetation management is important for maintaining sightlines and providing adequate trail width along the regional system.
“Best management practices are being developed to support staff in ensuring ecological values are maintained during routine maintenance activities,” Orr said in a statement, which also noted mowing helps prevent the risk of fires and staff are given training on species identification.
Within long straightaway sections like where the Galloping Goose trail splits off westward along the Trans Canada highway, Cooper refutes the sightlines explanation as he documents how those areas too are being cut.
In the closing days of May, the edges of the trail where Cooper pursues bees and other insects flying between intact flowers are marked by tufts of crispy grass that’s now tangled and dried out from the sun after being cut.
Even though it may just be a couple of feet on either side of the trail, Cooper knows those spaces foster a lively habitat. The various types of critters he finds after just a few minutes of taking a closer look are proof of that.
“When you see a mower go through and you realize all those little creatures are suddenly mowed down, you think what is the justification for this?”
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